Arrebato (Rapture)

Arrebato (Rapture) is a film made in 1979 by Spanish director Ivan Zulueta. It explores the idea of the film camera as a powerful entity capable of taking the lives of its operators and subjects. Susan Sontag writes of the camera being aimed, and its subjects shot, and this metaphor comes true in Arrebato. Even in its title, then, Arrebato (from Arabic ‘rebato’ to snatch or take violently), like its English translation Rapture (from Latin ‘raptura’ seizing), is a film about violence and captivation.

Arrebato’s basic plot revolves around José, a filmmaker who is dissatisfied both in his profession and private life, making budget Vampire films by day and arguing with his drug-addicted girlfriend by night. One evening he arrives home to discover a package sent him by his friend Pedro, a gaunt, childlike and obsessive filmmaker. The package contains a reel of Super 8 film, an audiotape of Pedro, and a key. From this, the film begins a series of flashbacks.
We discover that Pedro has become preoccupied with the idea of manipulating time with a camera so that it slows down motion. He loves being in a suspended state of rapture or ecstasy, watching film that he records for hours. José helps him get a stop-motion camera that can capture time click by click, and allow Pedro to glimpse infinitesimally small (and thus previously invisible) moments. Pedro lives like a child, still overwhelmed by comic-book stories, dolls, and the images of trees and skies that he records. Every night he projects films onto his bedroom wall and squirms in ecstatic terror, incarcerated in the fantasy places they take him. The verb project is important here, deriving from ‘pro-‘ forth and ‘jacere’ to throw, signalling the visceral effect of film upon Pedro. Ecstasy’s etymology also highlights the fact that Pedro uses film to escape the present reality and move but into fantasy and his childhood: ecstasy, from the Greek ‘ek-‘ out and ‘histanai’ to place. Like the magic lanterns projected on the walls of the childhood bedroom in Proust’s Swann’s Way, therefore, film projection for Pedro is both frightening and alluring, containing elements of the uncanny that Laura Mulvey recognises in her discussion of the Magic Lantern (in Death 24x a second: stillness and the moving image p.41).
The projector and Super 8 films might take Pedro back to his childhood, but his new stop-motion camera, which is digital and robotic, leads him into a more unknown and threatening territory. Like José and his girlfriend’s dependency on drugs for rapture, the camera captures Pedro more and more. It eventually develops the capacity to turn its beady red eye on any subject it chooses, and to switch itself on and off.  By the time José receives Pedro’s package, views and listens to the reel and tape that document Pedro’s experience with the camera, and used the key to enter Pedro’s flat, Pedro has been taken-in completely – he is no longer to be found. José finds himself in the camera’s line of gaze, projected in a live stream onto the wall behind him. His face morphs alarmingly into Pedro’s and back to his own; the camera’s red eye aims directly at him, and shoots.
Like Cronenberg’s Videodrome of a few years later, Zulueta’s Arrebato reflects an anxiety about rapidly developing and omnipresent technology, technology that is capable of ‘seeing’ better than the human eye, and that comes so close to imitating the human body that it physically attacks it ­– the talking television and video cassette that enters Max Renn’s stomach in Videodrome, and the camera in Arrebato that both excites Pedro, its anthropomorphic eye constantly blinking at him, and shoots José. In a way, Arrebato is about the abject, the experiences of rapture are experiences of abjection: pushing Pedro, and later José, over a border of power and comprehension until they are terrified and captive. The camera denies categorisation as a tool because it becomes omnipotent, and a friend that kills, to adapt a phrase by Julia Kristeva. In a historical context of post-Franco Spain, Arrebato could be seen as a revolt and subsequent overload of drugs, technology and hedonism. The camera can transform its victims into defenceless projections; not only does it imitate a living, demonic figure, but it is also a possible representation of late-capitalism’s terrifying and attractive pull that would intensify throughout the 1980s.